Washington state “no man’s land” continues to generate opinions

Wildfire Today has previously covered the issue of the 49,000-acre Dry Creek fire (here, here, and here) and the fact that it was not within any established fire protection district in eastern Washington. At a meeting on November 23 some local residents complained that suppression of the fire was compromised or delayed because the fire was not within any tax-supported fire district. (Map)

The Daily News, “serving the lower Columbia”, has weighed in with an editorial. Here is an excerpt.

…A few legislators at the November meeting indicated that they would offer a bill requiring firefighters to immediately engage fires outside their fire districts. Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, was one them. Chandler called it a “duty to serve” law, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Firefighters already recognize that duty and can be expected to make every effort to respond to emergency calls, regardless of fire district boundaries. There are valid concerns about liability and the expense of engaging out-of-district fires. If lawmakers want to make a contribution, they should address those concerns. But simply mandating that tax-supported fire districts ignore district boundaries is the wrong way to go.

We agree with those local fire officials who attended the November meeting and later expressed some misgivings about simply mandating that firefighters respond outside their districts, without allowing for concerns about cost and liability.

“I’m not in favor of a mandate that says we’ll fight fires in no man’s land no matter what,” Dave LaFave, chief of Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, told Daily News reporter Barbara LaBoe. “Because that puts all the burden on the folks (within the district) who are providing for all the service. The folks who live in no man’s land are basically gambling they don’t need service, but if they do then we’re called.”

Eric Koreis, chief of Castle Rock’s Fire District 6, told LaBoe that he could “understand legislation that directs people not to stand by when they see an emergency happening. But at the same time,” he added, “I think it’s a good opportunity to work on funding and the legality of the issues to keep it fair to people who live within the fire districts.”

Exactly. No one would advocate standing down in an emergency. But there must be some incentive for landowners to allow themselves to be annexed into a fire district or create their own fire district. Simply mandating away fire district boundaries is a very quick fix that, in reality, is no fix at all.

Senate passes bill that includes $4M for belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters

Most of the National Guard Blackhawk helicopters that I have seen dropping water on fires have used a collapsible bucket hanging from a very short line, about 25-30′ long. The prop wash from the rotor blades blows the fire all over the place.

That’s why I was pleased to see an earmark in the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill that allocates $4,160,00 for fixed belly tanks for National Guard Blackhawk helicopters.

Funding would be used for engineering, evaluation and procurement of the Recoil UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter R60 Wildland Fire-Fighting Tank System (900 gallon) for the Army National Guard (ARNG). This is in an aim to make R60 tanks become organic equipment of the ARNG be distributed nationwide to State Army National Guard to support and respond to wildland fires.


Senate passes wildfire appropriations bill

The Senate has passed a bill that provides funds for wildland fire management on federal lands in Fiscal Year 2010. Usually the Department of Interior initially receives the fire funds which are then dispersed to the other Interior agencies and the U. S. Forest Service, even though the USFS is in the Department of Agriculture. 

The bill includes an amendment supported by Senators Bingaman and Feinstein that includes the provisions of the previously proposed FLAME act, which not only provides funds for fire suppression, but also for funding to keep critical non-fire programs and services functioning even if unexpected expenses of very large fires consume a disproportionate share of the budget. 

The bill includes a 16% increase over last year’s budget.

Next, the bill needs to be conferenced to work out the differences between the Senate and the House versions.



Thanks Kelly

Wildfire news, April 13, 2009

Chain saw flash drive

Need a gift for that wildland firefighter/chain saw operator that has everything?  Chances are they don’t already have a 2 GB flash drive in the shape of a chain saw.  These were originally included with special limited edition copies of the game Resident Evil 5 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, but many have shown up on eBay selling for $23-35.  It’s a little pricey for a 2 GB flash drive, but it’s a CHAIN SAW FLASH DRIVE, for pete’s sake.

New York City fire

A 30 to 40-acre fire may not be big news in much of the United States, but when it is in New York City on Staten Island it turns into a 6-alarm emergency.  About 250 firefighters brought it under control after four hours.

Much of the fire was in a cat tail marsh, which can produce some spectacular flames and heavy black smoke.  One firefighter suffered a minor back injury and one unoccupied house was destroyed while two others were damaged.

FEMA teams to survey fire-damaged Oklahoma

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin on Tuesday gathering information about the damage caused by the fires last week.  State officials have said 100-150 homes were destroyed in the state by the wildfires.  The FEMA survey will determine the amount of federal disaster aid that will be available.  Midwest City near Oklahoma City and portions of the southern part of the state were especially hard hit.

State Farm Insurance estimates there will be more than $10 million worth of home and automobile damage from the fires in Oklahoma.

Helicopter Association concerned about FLAME Act.

The U.S. House of Representatives on March 26 passed by a 412 to 3 vote the FLAME Act which establishes a new federal fund to cover the growing costs associated with fighting wildland fires.  The fire funding issue is one that MUST be addressed so that federal agencies do not have their budgets for a wide range of priorities devastated when wildland fires occur.  This portion of the bill is widely recognized as very important and long overdue.

However, one of the 12 amendments attached to the bill requires that the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture submit a “cohesive wildland fire management strategy” report, with one of the components being:

“A plan, developed in coordination with the National Guard Bureau, to maximize the use of National Guard resources to fight wildfires.”

The Helicopter Association International is concerned that National Guard helicopters would be used instead of privately owned helicopters to fight wildfires, putting additional economic stress on private companies, many of which are struggling in this economy.

From the Association’s web site:

This is a critical firefighting issue that affects all helicopter operators, especially those under contract to the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. The state of the U.S. economy is grim, and significant emphasis has been placed on helping large corporations, auto manufacturers, and financial institutions.

Should the National Guard language be added to the Senate bill and the final legislation signed by President Obama direct the maximum use of National Guard resources to fight wildfires, firefighting operators will be significantly affected by this action which could limit the use of commercial firefighting resources.

Many HAI operators conducting firefighting operations across the United States are small businesses and are the backbone of the aviation industry. They are an indispensable component of this nation’s economy. It is imperative that Congress understand their value when considering legislation.

They may have a valid concern.  Existing federal rules for air tankers, for example, require that privately-owned air tankers be totally committed before government-owned air tankers, such as the National Guard operated MAFF C-130 air tankers, be activated.   I expect that the Association would want at least the same measure of protection governing the use of National Guard helicopters.

Nine FF’s injured in “tanker” rollover

Firegeezer, a site always worth visiting, has the story (with lots of photos) of a tanker-pumper that rolled over in Australia Austria injuring nine firefighters.  Wow.  That’s a lot of firefighters on a tanker-pumper.

Thanks, Chuck.